Barbara Bashall: Do it right the first time | TheUnion.com

Barbara Bashall: Do it right the first time

Barbara Bashall
Columnist

There's a particular type of telephone call I dread, and I receive those calls far too often. Let me tell you about a recent one.

Linda Mazur telephoned earlier this year, and in her own words, said she was "distraught." She'd hired an out-of-town contractor to build her dream home in Penn Valley.

It turned out the man was inexperienced and in serious financial trouble. He abandoned Mazur's project after a few months. Luckily, Mazur's lawyer suggested she call the Nevada County Contractors' Association.

After hearing her plight, I compiled a list of 11 NCCA general contractor members who could tackle a big post and beam building like the one Mazur needed to have finished. Her barely-framed home had no walls and no protection for the roof. Plus, it was raining. A lot.

Long story short: Mazur reviewed my list and hired NCCA member Tim Tygart.

Tygart fixed the myriad of problems created by the man who abandoned the project, and ultimately finished Mazur's home last October.

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"Tim helped me, a damsel in distress," Mazur said.

Tips for homeowners

Learning lessons the hard way is never fun. So let's discuss how to choose a reliable contractor and save yourself time, money, and headaches. This advice is important whether you're building a new home, remodeling, adding an addition, or tackling any home-improvement project.

The top three tips are: Get references and do your homework, make sure the contractor has experience doing your type of construction, and check their contractor's license.

"Go to the Contractors State License Board's website and check the status of the contractor's license," said Sam Marsico, owner of Marsico Custom Homes, Inc. "Suspensions, violations, and actions will be displayed. Check the status of the contractor's workers' compensation insurance. Some contractors employ workers but have a work comp exemption on file, as well as an exemption affidavit when getting permits.

"No matter what their excuse for doing so, it is shady business and means that the property owner risks liability for injuries incurred during construction of the project."

For minor repairs or remodels, obtain at least three estimates.

"Get three proposals — apples to apples — so you get a closer cost estimate from at least three contractors," said Tygart, owner of T.N. Construction, Inc. "Also, on down payments, the contractor can only receive $1,000 or 10 percent, whichever is the lesser amount.

"It is also good to have a contractor who has liability insurance that covers the consumer's project in addition to the bond. This costs the consumer a little bit more, but then the consumer has additional leverage in case the bond does not cover all the cost."

Start early, especially when building a new home.

"Be sure to involve the contractor when locating the home on the lot, and therefore on the site plan. Once the foundation is in, it is literally 'set in concrete,'" said Marsico. "Be very careful when using plans from an architect who is not local. The very best Arizona has to offer may never have drawn a stepped foundation on a lot that is 20 feet lower at the back corner of the house, not to mention ensured that the design has the seismic resistance for California."

"Find your contractor and the architect or home designer even before you buy the land, if possible," said Greg Gallup of Gallup Construction Company. "Both these professionals should be people with whom you are comfortable — people who understand what you want and for what cost.

"Don't be afraid to tell both what your budget is and show them pictures of the style and size desired. Ask them to be your reality check at once! Be prepared to change the layout or plans of your dream house to meet the constraints of the land."

Get referrals from other clients for whom your prospective contractors completed recent jobs of the same caliber. Contact those customers and ask questions about their overall experience with their contractor, how he handled problems if any occurred, were deadlines met, and how committed he was to the success of the project and satisfaction of the client.

"If you're building something unique, check with contractors to find out if they have ever built specialty projects such as post-and-beam homes, log homes, or energy-saving homes," said Tygart.

Nearly all construction projects require permits. Some dishonest companies may suggest the job be done without permits to save money. But that leaves the consumer on the hook for fines if caught, and unpermitted work can also cause problems when it's time to sell. Without permits, there will also be no inspections by the city or county to ensure the work is up to code.

Help at your fingertips

Another helpful resource is our Nevada County Contractors' Association website, NCCABuildingPros.com.

Click on "Member Directory" and choose from among more than 200 specialties, ranging from architects to well drilling and everything in between.

Once you've chosen a contractor, make sure your contract spells out exactly what will be done, including deadlines, progress payments, and who will provide which materials.

After more than 20 years working with construction professionals, I can confidently say the most important thing to ask a contractor you're considering hiring is this: "Do you belong to the Nevada County Contractors' Association?"

Just last week a woman called and lamented that she'd hired a roofing contractor whose bid was substantially lower than two others she had received. I explained that such a scenario is a sure recipe for a problem, and sure enough, she admitted the project was fraught with complications.

Don't go it alone. Feel free to utilize the NCCA website or telephone me. I will generate a list of contractors, work with you to refine the list, and help you hire the very best general contractor for your specific job.

We can't solve every consumer's problem. But when you hire an NCCA member, you are backed by an organization that has spent the past 60 years promoting high standards, integrity, and ethical practices in the construction industry.

Barbara Bashall writes a monthly column for The Union. She is the executive director of the Nevada County Contractors' Association, a nonprofit group of 320 general contractors, sub-contractors, building material suppliers, and other construction professionals whose mission is to promote high standards, integrity, and ethical practices within the construction industry. Visit NCCABuildingPros.com or call 530-274-1919.